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Insider: The Colts aren't working. Time to shake something up

Stephen Morris, Joey Ivie
Chuck Pagano stood behind a microphone Saturday night and fielded a flurry of questions for which he had few answers.
What’s wrong with your offense?
Why can’t your team tackle?
Why are your players losing in the trenches?
So many questions, so few solutions.
And that is why it’s time to think outside the box. Granted, it’s only preseason, but the Indianapolis Colts’ coach needs to keep all possible courses of action on the table. Now is not the time to dismiss these issues as preseason matters that will be solved once the team begins to welcome back its many injured key players.
Now might be the time for big changes. After all, what does Pagano have to lose when another subpar season might cost him his job anyway?
We’re already starting to see some willingness by Pagano to think unconventionally. The Colts started Jeremy Vujnovich over Le’Raven Clark at right tackle in Saturday’s 24-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. When asked about the move, Pagano responded, “We’re just trying to find the best five (linemen). Vuni’s played good and earned the right to start this game.”
Pagano later referenced Clark’s “foolish” holding penalty in the third quarter, which won’t be helpful in his effort to regain his job.
While he’s at it, Pagano might take this opportunity to contemplate a couple of other dramatic changes.
It feels as if the time has come to completely reevaluate the quarterback situation. We do not have all the information regarding starting quarterback Andrew Luck’s status. But unless there’s a compelling reason to presume Luck’s shoulder will be healed in time to play in the Sept. 10 season opener, it feels irresponsible to ignore the worst-case scenario. If the Colts enter the regular season with a backup quarterback, nothing we’ve seen in training camp or the preseason has suggested Scott Tolzien should get the job by default.
Stephen Morris has done his part to merit consideration as something more than a No. 4 quarterback who gets so few practice snaps he might as well be playing solitaire on the sideline. Morris has been a bystander since the first few days of training camp. Yet he’s still managed to move the football late in the team’s two preseason games.
Remember, it was about this time last year when Morris prompted debate among fans with his 2016 preseason performance. Those efforts earned him a temporary spot on the team’s final roster, but he never supplanted Tolzien as Luck’s primary backup. To be buried behind Tolzien and rookie Phillip Walker — something for which Pagano has offered no plausible explanation — is perplexing at this point. With Tolzien under center, the Colts have achieved exactly one first down in the first quarters of their two preseason games.
One first down.
Morris might well fall on his face if he plays with the starting offense against starting defenders, but, again, what does Pagano have to lose?
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Pagano expressed an open-mindedness about the quarterback situation, saying, “We’ll take a good, hard look at it and do what’s best for this football team. What I know is they’re all competitors. We’ll put the best guy out there.”
Morris, to his credit, has handled all this like a saint. He’s resisted the urge to let his frustration show.
“What good is that going to do?” Morris said. “What you can control is what is my attitude going to be like today? Am I going to be upset or down? No. Just have fun. You’re playing football.”
Marlon Mack is certainly having fun, and he’s next on Pagano’s list of players whose roles should be assessed.
The rookie running back, drafted in the fourth round last spring, was easily the Colts’ most electrifying player Saturday night. It wasn’t just his numbers — though he averaged a robust nine yards per carry on five rushing attempts. Further, Mack has the chance to inject some life into what has otherwise been a lifeless offense without Luck in the lineup. His role is practically begging to be expanded. This decision doesn’t seem as if it will require much arm twisting for Pagano.“If they earn it, that’s what this whole thing is about. It’s about earning it,” Pagano said. “He probably earned himself a little bit more playing time.”
In defense of the coaching staff, Saturday was Mack’s NFL debut after he missed last week’s preseason opener with a shoulder injury. He’s had limited practice time and isn’t up to speed on all the details of the offense, like the 2-minute offense. But as Mack gets more involved in practice, Pagano said, the staff hopes to integrate him a bit more. It’s also worth finding out whether Mack can show the same elusiveness and vision against starting defenders.
That chance likely comes next Saturday.
“Next week, we’ve got Pittsburgh,” Mack said. “A great defense. Every week is a test.”
The unconventional thinking will likely continue with defensive back T.J. Green, who Pagano strongly suggested is going to remain at cornerback long term after moving there last week from safety. In his first-ever game action at cornerback at any level, Green had a mixed performance but showed promise. Some other little-known players maximized their opportunities, receiver JoJo Natson and linebacker Luke Rhodes among them. Don’t be surprised if their playing time increases during the final two preseason contests.
It feels like the time for status quo has passed. The regular season will be here before you know it. The Colts can stand pat and continue to be dominated. Or they can shake things up and at least see if results follow.
Because, again, what does Pagano have to lose?

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